V. Enter the Artists Without Borders
There's something afoot, coming at us in response to things that are happening and have been happening for some time now (remember, every tagged movement is some manner of reaction to one preceding it). Sterling sussed out one element of this thing very early on and hung his brand name on it. Many of us have thus focused on the slipstream facet (it sounds so cool — Bruce has an unerring ear for making causes sound cool), but fewer have noticed that it's not just genre material leaking across the hall into the contemporary fiction room. Elements of that mainstream have been flowing the other way, too. Those dwellers in the halls haven't just been going into all the rooms, they've been taking stuff from one room, putting it in another, and leaving things piled on the hall tables, next to the coffee cups, ashtrays and WiFi connections. It isn't going on in the house of literature alone. It's happening next door in the photography house. In the dance studio down the block. Interstitiality is occurring simultaneously in literature, in art, in music (where it often falls into a "world music" basket, which is often the safest bet when all other forms of categorizing fail), in theater. It's difficult to categorize, because "interstitial" means "to stand between." By definition it doesn't belong in anybody's basket.
The rise of the Interstitial (I refrain from calling it a movement, because that presupposes some willful intent and I don't believe that's the case here — this isn't organized revolution, at least not until now) comprises artists who are embracing both traditional form and new experiments. They are not — like Marge Piercy with her novel He, She, and It — absconding with elements that they may not fully understand or appreciate, but are of the forms, embracing it while reconstituting it. And they have the freedom to come out of or go into any room in the house, too.
The In–betweeners include China Mieville, Kelly Link, Jeffrey Ford, Michael Swanwick, M. John Harrison, Neil Gaiman, A.S. Byatt, Michael Chabon, Louise Erdrich. And Auster, Erickson, Boyle and those guys from the previous lists. This inclusion is important, because it points to the key distinction between the Interstitial view of things and the categorizing approach. Fiction can be interstitial at the same time that it falls into any number of publishing categories. It may be seen as a "mystery novel" but something in the approach is exploding away from the traditional mystery and creating something more than that.
We can include the slipstream and the magic realists because IA is not a category so much as it is a modality.
Artists like Charles Vess, Yoshitaka Amano co–exist there. So do television shows such as Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and Six Feet Under; theater groups who stage plays where puppetry co–exists with Shakespeare and Kabuki meets Greek tragedy; and graphic novels mixing harrowing tales of repressive Patriot–Act enabled societies with comic book illustration.
The Interstitial approach allows Italo Calvino, Amos Tutuola, Borges, Bruno Schulz, Edogawa Rampo, and Neil Gaiman to co–exist in one place, acknowledging the merit of their individual works and not trying to pretend that they're anything alike. Art that lives between the lines.
The Interstitial approach is non–threatening to traditions. Neither does it advocate giving up the tropes of science fiction or high fantasy or film noir. It doesn't call on everyone to stop doing what they're doing and write "our" way. It is saying that other ways not only exist, but that we think a lot of exciting stuff is going on there, and what's out in the hall might be more dynamic than what's inside the rooms, especially if you're tired of what you're finding in those rooms. Maybe you'd like to spend some time drinking our 100% organic coffee and checking it out.
On SFF.NET recently the question was raised whether science fiction remains the literature of Ideas or not. It produced a raging debate that was never satisfactorily answered; but many of the respondents seemed truly fearful that a way of fiction, a tradition, was vanishing — or possibly might have disappeared already while no one was watching, and mainly because of the evil influence of "the mainstream," which by this argument has corrupted the purity of the experiment. It was a curious kind of a literary xenophobia — a fear of the "other" that I found a little disconcerting coming from a genre that is all about embracing the Other. No doubt there are those in the mainstream who share that fear when looking in upon us — that all of our pulp tropes — our comic books and vampires and elves and fairy tales — are going to destroy their purity, too.
It's all ridiculous, and mostly because it's far too late. The corruption, infiltration, and mutation have already taken place. It's a constant and organic process that you couldn't stop if you tried, because you don't know where it's coming from next. We can trace an experimental form of storytelling to John Dos Passos, and Philip Dick's paranoia to Franz Kafka. What shall we do — travel back in time and stop anything that looks like it might send ripples up the literary timeline? Whoops, too late, Jasper Fforde has already made a mockery of the concept with The Eyre Affair.
Second of all, the perceived dangers are phantoms. Experiments in the hall don't deplete what's in the rooms. Interstitial art didn't kill the western genre. The western killed itself, and about the only place it still hangs on at all is in the hall now. Some of the things carried off into the hall will eventually move back in and take up residence in the room where it started. The literary influence will slide in and give us Richard Russo's Ship of Fools, and M. John Harrison's Light — works that can live comfortably inside the science fiction room while having been "corrupted" by those evil outside influences, and may or may not be judged as interstitial works at all. But Heinlein's still in there, and so are Asimov and Herbert. I see no signs of the bulkheads buckling as a result. As to whether their fiction stands the test of time — that's for time to decide. It's none of my business.
Thank you, and good night.
Gregory Frost is the author numerous short stories and five novels, the most current, Fitcher's Brides, is a recasting of the fairy tale of Bluebeard upon the landscape of 19th century New York in the grip of a millennialist frenzy. He has been a finalist for nearly every fantasy and horror literature award. A new novel, Attack of the Jazz Giants and Other Stories, is forthcoming from Golden Gryphon Press, 2005. For more information visit his homepage and to read an excellent interview, visit Strange Horizon.
Mark Wagner, MA. is a digital and traditional artist and teacher. He works as a conceptual artist, art director, graphic designer, and fine artist. His paintings and illustrations have been published and shown internationally. His work can be seen online at: www.heartsandbones.com